Thursday, December 12, 2013

The minimalist chestnut soup

Surprise! We're taking a break from sweets on the blog today and going savory.  Believe it or not, I eat and cook other things besides cookies and cakes.  It's easier to take pictures of treats though...they seem to sit still a lot better than savory foods, I find.
As I've mentioned before, I love chestnuts!  I love eating them plain, in dessert, or in savory dishes. This time of year, I try to buy as many fresh chestnuts as possible and enjoy them before they disappear from the supermarket.  
I boil chestnuts for snacking...
So I've been eating my weight in chestnuts - or at least making space for them alongside all the Christmas cookies.  And in the spirit of my preference for easy everyday cooking most of the time, I thought I'd share this minimalist chestnut soup with you.  "Minimalist" because the recipe comes directly from the Mark Bittman, the Minimalist himself, and from the sheer fact that this soup recipe is so simple - almost bare-bones.  
Jarred (or vacuum-packed) chestnuts are a big time-saver for soups like these
It's just a few ingredients - chestnuts, chicken stock, onions, and celery, essentially.  I used jarred chestnuts because I can't roast chestnuts for my life and though it's expensive, you might get lucky and find them on sale this time of year.   There's no cream or any dairy in this soup (nor potatoes or other kinds of vegetables, even fruit, that you sometimes find in chestnut soups) but it's robust and creamy.  The chestnut flavor is subtle - I find it almost difficult to describe their flavor here.  It contributes a nuttiness, almost a woodsiness, in the background that's hard to identify but so good.

The smell of this soup simmering on the stove reminded me of chestnut soup my mother made when I was a child.  I honestly don't think she made it very often but I always think about it.  It was one of those special foods I recall enjoying and appreciating even as a kid.

If you want something a bit more complex (though it will inevitably take away from the chestnut flavor), you could customize this soup in many ways.  Some chestnut soups have potatoes in them. To make it creamier, some might add a splash or two of milk or cream to finish (I don't think it's necessary though). You could even add some bacon, pancetta, or even bits of chicken if you want a little saltiness and more heft to the soup than what we have here.  And what we have here is a basic base of some onions and celery, together with chicken stock, to give this soup its backbone.
There's a good amount - 2 cups - of celery in this soup.  It's funny because as a child, I hated celery.  My mom would cook it in some kind of stir-fry and I was not a fan.  To this day, I don't like raw or crunchy celery but I've always tolerated (and now enjoy) celery in soup.  I don't mind it at all when it's soft and the same goes here.  I enjoyed it plenty, in fact.

Now, when you cook with onions and celery, you probably automatically think carrots, like I do.  Mark Bittman doesn't recommend carrots because he feels their sweetness overwhelms the chestnuts.  I resisted the urge to add even a small carrot in here and I'm really glad I did.  The carrots would have hogged too much attention, and it's nice to let the mild sweetness of the chestnuts themselves add their magic.
A quick word on the chestnuts.  You could certainly roast your own if you have the patience and skills that I admittedly lack.  Peeling chestnuts - particularly their skin - is not a fun or quick task. This recipe originally called for 10 "large" chestnuts.  Mine were not large so I practically doubled up on the amount.  In my experience, use more when in doubt!  You can always thin the out soup once finished if necessary but you can't just add more at the end. You want to make sure you have enough chestnut so that it's chestnut soup, not just celery and chicken soup. 
For a little texture, try adding some coarsely chopped chestnuts into the soup before serving to reinforce the flavor.  I really liked that because I can't ever have too much chestnuts!  My mother's chestnut soup was never pureed and finding the chunks of chestnuts was like finding the golden treasure!

If you find yourself with extra chestnuts, try chopping them up and adding to roasted brussels sprouts or as a topping for other starchy soups.  I'm sure you're familiar with chestnut stuffing and they go well with braised chicken and many other things, really, since their flavor is so mild.  Of course, you could always just eat them plain!


Recipe:

The Minimalist Chestnut Soup

- Approximately 4 servings - 

12 large chestnuts, jarred/frozen/vacuum-packed variety or roasted yourself (when in doubt, use more rather than less chestnuts)
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil (I used olive oil)
2 cups chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
Salt and pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

Heat butter or oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add celery, onions, and a healthy dash of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until onions are translucent.  Add stock plus a half cup of water.  Add chestnuts, bring to a boil, then partially cover the pot and let simmer until chestnuts are mushy, about 30 minutes.  

Let cool slightly then carefully puree the soup with either an immersion or in a blender.  Thin the soup out with a bit more water, if necessary.  Taste, and season with more salt and pepper, as needed.

Before serving, garnish with a sprig of celery leaves or add a few pieces of chopped chestnuts into the soup for a little texture, if desired.    





43 comments:

  1. Yay, more chestnuts! I would LOVE some of this right now...

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  2. I love puree soups and this looks delicious! Don't laugh but I don't think I have ever had chestnuts before or seen them at the supermarket. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places? What aisle can you find them at? I love soups that are customizable. Some grilled cheese sandwich to dunk would be perfect for lunch. YUM! :) Enjoy your day Monica!

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    1. Hi Anne - I'd never laugh at you! There are a million things I've never eaten! Chestnut supplies are probably already dwindling. You can find fresh ones in the produce aisle, right by the fruits and veggies. Jarred ones right now should be displayed near the baking aisle or seasonal stuff. I've seen vacuum packed ones right in these seasonal aisles (Whole Foods ) and sometimes refrigerated (Trader Joe's). It is so downright cold - you definitely need piping hot soup AND that grill cheese sandwich these days for lunch. Then, I'm hungry an hour or two later. I blame the cold!

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    2. Thanks Monica! I'm heading to Trader Joe's tomorrow. Hopefully I'll see some. If not, I'll be sure to check out the produce aisle next year for them. :) xo

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  3. Soups are so welcome at our house these days especially since it's been so cold outside. This chestnut soup sounds lovely Monica! I love how few and simple the ingredients are but it's packed full of a nutty flavor that you can enhance or customize to your preference. A big bowl of this soup sounds so good to warm up with right now :)

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    1. Thanks, Kelly! We just had a snow day here on Wednesday and it is just freezing! I have soup in my house almost non-stop this season! Take care!

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  4. Loving this savory soup recipe. It's been cold out and I just want creamy and savory for dinner, so this looks like it would hit the right spot!

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    1. And with more snow on the way (possibly) this weekend, we better stock up on more hot,creamy, savory food, Pamela!

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  5. Wow I never thought of making a chestnut soup! Looks delicious and perfect for cold nights!

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    1. Thanks so much. Honestly, this is the first time I've made it and yet I eat chestnuts all the time and I remember my mom's soup. : ) But I will make it often from now on...

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  6. That's the way I like my chestnut soup too!

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  7. Oooh I think that photographing savory foods is easier, but that just might be me ;--) This soup looks amazing too! And so so cozy. I'd definitely could do with a bowl of it now that it's got so cold! xo

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    1. For me, it's more my rush/impatience to dig in and eat dinner whereas the desserts can be made ahead to photograph, etc. : ) I love soup and it's great to have around (to go with cookies)... ; )

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  8. I still need to try your boiled chestnuts! I keep seeing them at the market but don't buy them because I feel like i don't have time to make anything...but it takes so little time to boil them. Ok, i'm just gonna get them next time ;) This soup sounds totally delicious. What a perfect starter to a winter dinner!

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    1. You're right, Amy! It is so busy right now and there is so much to eat so it's hard to make space for more! I was thinking of this as like a holiday soup starter, too. Either way, I'm hoping to get some jarred chestnuts on sale after the holidays so I can make more when I want.

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  9. Okay, so I've never had a chestnut! Which I kind of can't believe - but I have a feeling I would love them! And this soup sounds and looks delicious - and the simplicity is so nice!

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    1. I hope you give it a try one day. The flavor is mild, a special kind of sweetness. I like it nice and fluffy in the middle. Roasting gives a great toasty flavor but I've never had luck doing it at home. I just love it!

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  10. Such a hearty, flavoursome soup! Perfect to keep us going between so many seasonal tasks. I can just imagine the taste and texture of this soup Monica. Delicious!

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    1. Thanks, Jo. It's good to have soup in the fridge right now given how busy we are. I plan to do minimal cooking next week - holiday baking/to-do's heat up!

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  11. I don't think I've ever had chestnut soup before, but you make it sound so delicious I'm going to have to make some! I always have a hard time photographing soups, but I think your pictures turned out beautifully.

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    1. I remember the night my husband and I got engaged, we went to a restaurant called "One if by land, two if by sea" in NYC and it started with chestnut soup...I knew it was going to be a good night to end a great day! I love chestnuts. : ) I hate photographing (for the most part) so I thank you!

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  12. I am usually a thick and hearty soup person and this looks just the way I want.

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    1. Glad to hear it! I like soups thick or thin like a broth as long as it's super hot - all kinds!

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  13. We went chestnut picking earlier this year and I had such a hard time cooking anything with them. I decided I would pick up the prep-ed ones in future. But I adore the flavour and next time I will make this soup...so simple yet delicious. Seriously, December is turning out to be such a busy month on the baking/cooking front. I am photographing so many dishes but just can't get over the cookie madness:-) Love your cookie break, though!

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    1. I hear you. Roasting chestnuts sounds romantic but in reality, the prepared kinds are way easier to cook, bake with! It is definitely cookie madness these days - let's enjoy it! haha : )

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  14. Being highly allergic to nuts, I have no eating experience with them and as little cooking experience as possible. But I would like to understand them. I never thought about the possibility of hard crunchy nuts getting mushy enough to blend into soup. I guess I knew that peanuts can be boiled like peas to be soft and roasted to be crunchy. Does that work with all nuts? Not that you would want to, but could nuts like walnuts, pecans, etc. be made mushy? Research time. :) Oh, another chestnut question, Monica. Why do chestnuts have such a limited season? Other nuts seem to be available year round why not chestnuts?

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    1. I'm sorry you're allergic to nuts, Wendy! On the question of chestnut availability, I know there was a blight many decades ago here in the U.S. It wiped out most of our chestnut trees so that's why we don't have many domestically and why we don't have much of a culture of eating them as a result. I know there's a farm in Florida that's growing them and I heard somewhere (maybe from Alice Medhrich?) that chestnuts were making a comeback in some way here so we'll see.

      Now, chestnuts have a bit of a fluffy interior when cooked. It breaks down beautifully when cooked this way for a soup. I have had peanuts in soup before and it does get soft and almost mushy, and I suppose it would work but I'm not positive how it would break down for other nuts. I think everything would break down eventually and then a blender could take care of the rest! Great questions - wish I was an actual expert (on anything) to be more precise. Take care!

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  15. Chestnuts definitely remind me of holidays with my family. This soup sounds delicious. I wish I had a bowl of it right now!

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    1. Thanks, Bianca. Chestnuts are definitely a part of the holidays for me, too.

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  16. Never had a chestnut soup! Love the idea!

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  17. Yum! and you know i love chestnuts too (or rather, i still have a love/hate going on because i'm the idiot who thinks she's going to successfully make marrons glace out of them someday.) :) I may seek out the jarred sort you use, because the whole cooking/peeling them? FOR THE BIRDS. So far, i've figured out how to do the outer shell very well, but that skin? I'm at a loss.
    Anyway, i love this soup: i love how simple it is (go, Mark Bittman! The Minimalist, to be sure) and i love how cozy it looks. beautiful!

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    1. I think I'll leave the marrons glace for the professionals even if it means paying $5 a pop for them. I know my own limits...but I commend you for your ambition! : ) I find the first few chestnuts are "easy" to peel when they're still piping hot but once they cool a bit, forget it! The skin is the peskiest! You might get more flavor from roasting & peeling your own but it won't be nearly as fun as popping open a jar.
      I'm all for minimalist most of the time. : )

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  18. I too love chestnuts but hardly buy them because I'm the only one at home that does like them :( never thought about soup....this looks soooo good! I could sneak em in....

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    1. Haha - why not! They might ask what that flavor is but chestnuts are mild and they just might like it in soup. : ) Thanks, Nazneen.

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  19. I love the savory break! I can only imagine how this soup tastes. I miss chestnuts. :) ela

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    1. Thank you! We all need savory and sweet breaks. :)

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  20. Soup sounds great these days, and the chestnut sounds yummy. I love roasted chestnuts--I've bought them on the street in Italy, so I always think of Italy when I think chestnuts. Love that this is so simple and healthy. And a savory break just once in a while is a good idea (I can't eat cookies for every single meal :)

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    1. Italian chestnuts are amazing - great flavor and it's no wonder they have so many awesome ways of using chestnuts.

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  21. It's definitely easier to take pics of cookies than soup! I love chestnuts...I can eat them in soup form?! That's so cool. It looks delicious. :)
    Tina at www.tinaschic.com

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    1. I'm with you! : ) Glad you love chestnuts too. I really want to make this soup again real soon - the cold and snow has me craving hot food like soup big time!

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